Excite Canada, Cavalier Daily, U. Virginia, Canada/US
October 19, 2001

CD Review:
Ten New Songs Reveal Leonard Cohen's
Passion for Life

by Megan Milks

Contributed by Andrea Janett

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(U-WIRE) CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Leonard Cohen has been around for a long time. He's lived with Allen Ginsberg, he's loved Rebecca de Mornay and he's written some of the most lasting songs of the 20th century. It's been nine years since he last released an album. With Ten New Songs, Cohen, usually the minstrel of the miserable, returns with a surprisingly hopeful collection of poignant ballads, a collection that could function as a brilliant finale to a typically brilliant career.

Cohen's songs speak across generations -- he's the Canadian counterpart to America's Bob Dylan. In his songs he pens truth. It's as though -- please forgive the melodrama -- he can articulate the tortured soul of humanity. Classic Cohen songs like "Suzanne" and "Hallelujah" (you may be more familiar with Bono's or Jeff Buckley's versions) will live on thanks to the strength of their lyrics; never will they become outdated or irrelevant. (As proof, go to a record store and see numerous Leonard Cohen tribute albums and covers.)

Almost every song on the new album feels the same way; Ten New Songs is already a classic.

It's been a while since we last heard from Cohen, now 67 years old and out from under a cloud of chronic depression. In the years between this and his previous album, he's been keeping a low profile. Five years were spent in California, inside a Zen monastery on Mount Baldy, where Cohen studied, meditated, cooked, cleaned and wrote 250 new songs and poems.

With much help from his longtime friend and collaborator Sharon Robinson (who shares the album cover with him), Cohen began putting together the music for the lyrics. Robinson's contribution to this album is large; she shares songwriting credit and plays almost all instruments on the album.

The songs are basically duets. And thank God for that, because although Cohen's voice is wonderfully husky and intriguing, its four-tone range can bog down his songs quickly. Robinson's rich alto adds a lighter hue that blends beautifully with her partner's burly monotone. As producer, she also has added a bit of an R&B feel to the music.

The style of this album is mellow to the max. The tempo does not rise above slow. Instrumentation is sparse and simple -- a few electronic drum beats here and there, the occasional keyboard chords - preventing too much competition between the notes and the words.

As usual, Cohen's lyrics are darkly beautiful but sad. Mortality seems to be something he's thought a lot about recently. But on this album, there's a calm acceptance running through darker themes. For instance, "In My Secret Life" (an upbeat song - who would have thought?) offers this nugget of self-realization: "I smile when I'm angry. / I cheat and I lie. / I do what I have to do / To get by. / But I know what is wrong / and I know what is right / and I'd die for the truth / in my secret life." Cohen recognizes human depravity but accepts it as nature. He voices regret but offers hope at the same time. In a way, he is offering peace.

"Here It Is" presents verse after verse of human vice: "here is your wine, / and your drunken fall; / and here is your love, / your love for it all" -- paired with a chorus of "may everyone live, and may everyone die." He seems to be inviting listeners to re-examine their lives with mortality in mind.

Several songs ponder the fleeting nature of love. Cohen is known to be quite the Casanova, but these new songs lament love lost instead of trying to woo any special ladies. "You Have Loved Enough" sees the lover losing his job forever and being "counted with the dead." "Love Itself" bemoans the end of love, and "That Don't Make It Junk" takes its diamond to the pawnshop ("but that don't make it junk").

The last song of the album, "The Land of Plenty," projects optimism from a songwriter known for making "music to slit wrists by" (a critic once said). Cohen is at last settling into his role of truth-spouting prophet: "Don't really know who sent me / To raise my voice and say: / May the lights in the land of plenty / Shine on the truth some day." Completely out of character, Leonard Cohen has finally given us something to look forward to.


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